[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] Y [/yt_dropcap]emen, one of the most turbulent and thoroughly disregarded states of the globe, has been exhausted by continuous civil wars, sectarianism, and tribalism since its inception as an independent country. Not only has Yemen divided into two states in her history, but also has dealt with endless flows of conflicts and turmoils.
Even after the re-unification of the state, civil wars and tribal vendettas have not come to an end. Combined with the dictatorship of its former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the disastrous conflict of 1994 between Houthis and the government forces was resurrected in 2004 and proceeded in several rounds, notwithstanding the armistices triggered by the mediation of Gulf countries (Council on Foreign Relations 2015). Being regarded as a regional destabilizer, Yemen has been subjected to multiple foreign interventions, either overt or covert, and the final stage of foreign interference might be considered the Saudi-led coalition which was involved due to the invitation of the Yemeni government (Center for Strategic and International Studies 2015). In this article, I argue that the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition into Yemen is ineffective due to four reasons: the high number of civilian casualities; the dearth of access to food, water and infrastructure; the inability to terminate or restrict the conflict; and the economic recession of Saudi Arabia after the intervention.
Saudi Arabia and its allies conducted two operations in Yemen: Operation Decisive Storm and Operation Restoring Hope on the invitation of the Yemeni President Hadi. Even though these operations are intended to halt the Houthi expansion and to reinstate Hadi to his office, it is also significant to note that the intervening forces ought to consider civilians and protect them while pursuing this agenda. In this regard, the interveners seem to be unsuccessful to protect Yemeni civilians since, according to the World Bank, nearly three thousand civilians were killed by intervening forces and approximately one million persons internally displaced (Nuruzzaman 2015). By the end of July 2015, the United Nations declared the Yemen humanitarian emergency as Level 3, which is the indicator of the most complicated and severe crises (Kandeh & Kumar 2015). After Operation Decisive Storm ended, Operation Restoring Hope was initiated with the inclusion of ground forces. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 7127 civilians were killed and more injured in this operation (Powell 2016).
Access of Civilians to Livelihood, Water, and Infrastructure
When Operation Decisive Storm was initiated, Saudi Arabia and its allies embarked upon the implementation of a naval and aerial blockade of Yemen with the purpose of thwarting the possible escape of Houthi leaders. However, the blockade brought about disastrous consequences for the Yemeni civilians due to the fact that most of the food supply of Yemen was either imported from neighboring countries or provided by humanitarian aid agencies (Kandeh & Kumar 2015). In the impoverished zones of the country, which consists of more than thirty five percent of the country according to the World Bank, famine became widespread (Carasik 2015). Furthermore, air campaigns heavily damaged the infrastructure of the country. Hospitals and schools were bombed and water sanitation was interrupted. Access to clean water and health care is a rare luxury for the Yemeni people. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 25 million people are struggling to have food and almost two-thirds of the country’s population are not able to receive any health care (Powell 2015).
Terminating or Limiting the Conflict
Saudi-led coalition forces interfered in Yemen with the purpose of putting an end to the Houthi expansion. However, they were not able to coerce Houthi rebels to withdraw from areas where the Houthis had seized control. Throughout operations, which proceeded for months, intervening parties only managed to retrieve the southern parts of the country from the Houthi forces (Al-Madhaji, Sidahmed & Al-Muslimi 2015). The position of the capital city, Sana’a, is still obscure since neither coalition forces nor Houthi rebels were able to control the entire city (Gause 2016). Thus, Saudi forces could not terminate or limit the conflict. On the contrary, they ultimately only expanded the conflict.
Minimum Degree of Burden to the Citizens of the Intervening Forces
Notwithstanding the fact that there is a coalition formed to interfere in Yemen, the main intervening party and the leader of the coalition is Saudi Arabia, as it undertakes most of the operational cost (Clausen 2015). That’s why it is crucial to note in terms of effectiveness that the operations put myriad burdens on Saudi citizens. According to the country development reports of Saudi Arabia in 2015 and 2016, there was a substantial fall in GDP from 3.5% to 1.5% and a significant rise in the price index from 2.2% to 4.2% (IHS Global Inc. 2016). Though the low price of oil has a significant impact on these decreasing economic values, the impact of the costly intervention in Yemen cannot be excluded as a non-factor (Powell 2016). Thus, this intervention has not only been detrimental to basic human services and standards of living in Yemen, it has produced a significant negative economic effect on domestic standards within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well.
The conflict in Yemen was a civil war between the fractions within Yemeni society, based on sectarian and ideological issues, until the Saudi-led intervention in March 2015. Both of the Saudi operations seem to be ineffective due to several reasons. First of all, both operations were not capable of protecting the lives of Yemeni civilians. Approximately six thousand people were killed by the intervention forces and many more were injured. Secondly, the naval and aerial blockade hindered food imports and the delivery of humanitarian aid, which created a catastrophic famine for the Yemeni people. Moreover, Saudi bombardments destroyed the infrastructure which made clean water and health care inaccessible to millions throughout Yemen. Thirdly, the intervention can hardly be considered successful in terms of terminating or restricting the conflict in Yemen. Finally, Saudi Arabia’s own GDP per capita and purchasing power parity was negatively impacted, as well as the annual growth rate, which indicates the heavy burden of intervention on Saudi citizens. Considering these reasons, the evidence is overwhelmingly compelling that the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen was not just ineffective, but disastrously so. Whether it can be altered or adapted moving forward into the future in order to change these disturbing trends remain to be seen. But so far this 21st century example of Arab intervention in another Arab state shows nothing but support for those who oppose intervention under any circumstances.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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